Thousands of people took to the streets of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Monday (13) to demand the death penalty for a man who raped a three-year-old girl, amid growing anger over sexual violence in the troubled Himalayan region.
Dozens of people were injured, most of them police, when officers fired tear gas and used batons to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators who had blocked part of a highway, police said in a statement.
The child’s rape came weeks after the suicide of a girl who police say was repeatedly raped by her own father, and has intensified public concerns over sexual violence.
Shops, businesses and schools were also shut across the Muslim-majority region in response to a strike called by separatist cleric Moulana Masoor Abbas to protest the rape.
“We called for strike today to make people aware about growing incidents of rapes in the valley. We want justice for the victim,” Abbas told reporters.
Police said the child was lured into an empty school by a neighbour and raped last Wednesday. Her mother followed her screams to find her bleeding inside a bathroom.
One person has been arrested over the attack.
Some protesters said they no longer had faith in authorities to keep women and girls safe, calling for those found guilty of such crimes to be given the death penalty.
“If the culprits of such crimes are hanged, then such incidents can come down,” protester Nafia Khursheed told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Authorities appealed for calm after the protests, which followed a pledge by Muslim clerics in the region to dedicate their Ramadan sermons to women’s rights.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU), a council of Muslim religious leaders and scholars, said they wanted to address what they said was a rise in sexual violence in the region.
Crimes against women jumped 8% to 3,168 cases in 2017 from 2,915 the previous year, according to government figures.
Last year, nationwide protests flared over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir state, prompting the federal government to introduce the death penalty for rapists of girls under the age of 12.
The outrage drew parallels with massive protests that followed the gang rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus in 2012, which led to tough new rape laws.